It had been a jam-packed couple of days for Jesus. Judging from the specific stories that Matthew gives us, Jesus performed seven healings, two exorcisms, and one raising from the dead. Matthew also tells us that Jesus “cured all the sick” that came to him on the first evening and that the next day, he began traveling around to the nearby towns “curing every disease and illness” (8:16; 9:35). And let’s not forget that he also calmed a deadly storm at sea, called Matthew to be his disciple, and helped the followers of John the Baptist to accept his ministry—all in the same couple of days.
You would think that after all this work, Jesus might have decided it was time for some rest. And maybe he did, initially. But Matthew tells us that “at the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity” (9:36). So many people in need. So much suffering. So much pain and loss. How could Jesus go easy on himself when there was still so much he could do?
Jesus knew that he couldn’t be everywhere all the time. So he chose twelve of his closest followers and sent them out to do the same work that he had been doing. But before letting them go, he gave them some instructions about how to serve and care for the people they would encounter. Let’s take a look at some of his words to see how they apply to us. Let’s see what it might look like for us to try to serve each other.
Service Begins at Home. Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 10:5-6)
This is the very first thing Jesus said to them. Strategically, this makes sense. Jesus knew that the apostles weren’t yet ready to take on the globe-trotting missionary work that he had planned for them. There were too many different cultures, languages, and religions out there, and the apostles were just beginning to learn how to share about the kingdom of God. Better to begin with the people they knew best of all so that their words would find a home more easily. There would be plenty of time later to venture outside of Israel and bring the good news to the Gentiles.
The same is true for us. When it comes to where and how we serve, it’s often simpler to start small and to learn how to pour ourselves out for the people who are closest to us.
But simple doesn’t always mean easy. American cartoonist and humorist Charles Schulz once had one of his characters say, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” In a sense, it’s easier to be concerned for the people “out there” who need help. But when we set about caring for the people in our own homes, parishes, and neighborhoods, we may find an even greater challenge. When we are caring for strangers, we can still go back home to where things are comfortable and familiar. But when we open our hearts to the people closest to us, we are committing to a more demanding, more full-time kind of love and service.
In her 1979 speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, St. Teresa of Calcutta told the audience the same thing that Jesus told his apostles—the same thing Jesus wants to tell us:
Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is up to God Almighty—how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving. . . . Find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there.
Make God’s Love Real. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. (Matthew 10:8)
Jesus told the apostles to perform physical miracles, like curing the sick, and spiritual miracles, like driving out demons. It was exactly what he had done. He served people by caring not only about their spiritual lives but also about their concrete human needs. So he wanted to serve them in whatever way they needed, and he wanted his disciples to do the same.
So whether it’s serving the people in your home or church or anywhere else, know that your service has spiritual and physical dimensions. Be alert to both. Don’t just offer to pray for someone when he needs practical help. But at the same time, don’t simply offer practical help like some food or an article of clothing—offer to pray with him as well; offer the gift of your presence. Always try to combine the physical and the spiritual. Make sure God’s love is something the person can see as well as feel.
Give, and Do Not Give Up. No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master. (Matthew 10:24)
Jesus, our Master, devoted his entire life to serving, and he asks us to serve and never give up. When we lay down our lives for someone else, as he did, we are following in his footsteps.
Of course, it’s not always easy to be as selfless as Jesus. We may have been serving someone for many years, and we are tired. Or maybe the person we are serving doesn’t seem to appreciate or acknowledge what we do. Sometimes we would rather use our time doing something for ourselves than for someone else.
Just as Jesus persevered in preaching the good news and carrying through with his mission, he asks us to keep serving and giving. In this way, we give witness to his love. Always and everywhere, he wants us to take on his heart—the heart of a servant, a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
So persevere. Give, and do not give up. Don’t walk away. If nothing else, your persistence reveals the very love and faithfulness of God.
You Are Not Alone. Jesus promises to be with anyone who reaches out to help another in his name. He promises to bless and lift up everyone who seeks to serve and love as he has served and loved. No one who tries to share Jesus’ presence in any way is alone.
So know that in any service you do, Jesus is with you and will help you carry the load. He will lead you to the places he wants you to serve, and he will show you how to serve with a joyful spirit and a willing heart. He will also show you that you are never too young or too old to be of service to his kingdom. All of your prayers and sacrifices make a difference. May we all grow in being true servants of the Lord!